After a string of vulgar displays during election season, leaders in Punta Gorda are stepping up to control profanity on flags and lawn signs.
A new ordinance limits the number of signs a person can place on their lawn and what a person can wear in public.
The city plans to educate people first with warnings before issuing fines. Repeat offenders could face a fine up to $200.
The ordinance will affect people like Joan Page, who keeps her yard dressed to the nines.
“I have the wreath with the coral and the star fish, and I have my mailbox cover to match and my flag to match,” Page said.
The two flags line her home. Under the new ordinance, Page can only have two more.
But that doesn’t bother her as long as the obscenity is controlled.
“I do not think that it’s good for the children to see that language,” Page said. “I do not think it’s good for adults to use. And I find it’s a very poor way to express yourself.”
The new ordinance goes even further.
It keeps people from wearing clothing with obscene language if it’s visible from public property.
“I just don’t want us to be the sign police and I don’t want us to misconstrue that we’re trying to enforce something that’s not in our purview,” said Punta Gorda Mayor Lynne Matthews.
There are some exceptions. Warning signs like “no trespassing” or “parking” are allowed.
Decorative flags and signs for holidays like Memorial Day are OK too.
“I have a problem if code enforcement were to pull American flags on people’s property no matter the time of year,” Matthews said.
The code still applies to the American Flag when it’s not a holiday.
Matthews said the decision to adopt the new sign code ordinance is because of a Supreme Court ruling that regulates the enforcement of all signage by all municipalities across the country.
Matthews said all sign enforcement must be content-neutral meaning cities cannot enforce one type of sign over another.
“All that said, we changed the code to reflect the Supreme Court ruling, not simply because we wanted to stop one type of sign vs. another,” Matthews said. “Our previous code had numerous other restrictions that we can no longer enforce and have it be defensible.”
For Page, self-expression is important if it’s clean and considerate.
“If they can go and voice their opinion, in a respectful way, then that’s what they should do,” Page said.
For more information on the ordinance visit here.